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Amnesty condemns acquittal of 3 police officers for involvement in killing of Kurdish lawyer

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London-based human rights organization Amnesty International has slammed a Turkish court’s decision to acquit three police officers accused of killing  a prominent Kurdish lawyer in the predominantly Kurdish province of Diyarbakır in 2015, describing the ruling as a “blow to justice.”

Tahir Elçi, the president of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, was shot in the head on November 28, 2015, shortly after giving a statement at a press conference in front of the historic Four-Legged Minaret in Diyarbakır when a clash between Turkish police and members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) erupted at the scene, and Elçi was caught in the crossfire.

A trial that began in 2020 concerning the murder of Elçi was concluded at the Diyarbakır 10th High Criminal Court on Wednesday with the acquittal of the three police officers, who stood trial on charges of “causing death by culpable negligence” in Elçi’s killing.

Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for Europe, Dinushika Dissanayake, said in a statement following the court’s decision on Wednesday that almost nine years after Elçi was killed in broad daylight, the court’s verdict is “a huge blow to his family and the wider human rights community in Türkiye.”

“The decision brings into sharper focus the abject failure of the authorities to conduct a thorough, prompt, independent and impartial investigation into his killing, which has allowed those responsible for it to evade justice,” she said, voicing a widespread criticism of the Turkish authorities for their failure to conduct a thorough and effective investigation into Elçi’s murder.

Dissanayake also called it “bitter irony” that Elçi’s life was cut short by the very violence he was campaigning to end and that justice for his killing has been sidestepped as a result of the endemic impunity that he dedicated his life to eradicating.

Elçi was known for his work to help victims of human rights violations obtain justice, campaigning for an end to violence and respect for the rights of the Kurdish people.

“The failure of the authorities to hold those responsible for his killing to account is a thorn in the heart of his loved ones and a stain on the justice system in Türkiye,” she added.

Lawyers for the Elçi family criticized the handling of the case, stating that their requests to uncover the truth were dismissed and alleging that evidence was mishandled and destroyed. Türkan Elçi, the widow of Tahir Elçi, noted that the bullet that killed her husband was never found and that “key pieces of evidence, including 40 bullet casings, were lost or destroyed.”

A 2019 report by Forensic Architecture concluded  that  Elçi was most likely killed by one of three police officers present at the scene. It was only after their investigation that an indictment in which three police officers faced charges of causing death by culpable negligence was accepted in March 2020.

However, this evidence was reportedly not given due consideration during the trial.

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